Zhaire Smith – 6’5 Combo Guard, Texas Tech University, 19 years old
Zhaire Smith could go anywhere from the late lottery, to the upper teens in the 2018 NBA Draft. After averaging 11.2 pts, 5 Reb, and 1.7 Ast as a freshman in Lubbock, Smith electrified BIG12 competition and led the Red Raiders to the Elite Eight in the NCAA tournament before losing to Villanova who went on to win it all.
Smith flashed a lot of versatility during his only college season and went on to turn heads during the NBA combine with his 45-inch vertical leap. At 6’5 with a 6’10 wingspan, teams will hope Smith can be a 4-tool defending, 3 and D which is an absolute necessity for title runs in the modern NBA.
First and foremost, Zhaire Smith is an elite athlete. With the way Smith can jump out of the gym, he will undoubtedly win a dunk contest at some point. Smith is regarded by many as the best dunker of this class. An underrated part of Smith’s game is his ability as a screener. Smith was often the roll man in the Red Raider offense this season, which led to more than a few rim-rocking dunks. A creative coach could use him as a matchup nightmare if a smaller guard switches onto him.
Defensively speaking, Smith has all the tools to be an All-NBA First Team Defender. As a rookie, he’ll be able to handle his own against positions 1-3, and if he puts on another 15 to 20 pounds he could handle some 4’s as well. His ultra-long reach will most definitely help with getting into passing lanes and closing out on 3-point shooters. Zhaire Smith also seems to have a super-human instinct allowing him to corral offensive rebounds better than any of his peers in the Class of 2018.
As state previously, Zhaire Smith seems to lend himself to the skillset of the 3 and D mold, but his 3pt shooting may be one of his biggest flaws as a prospect. Though Smith shot 45% from the arc during his freshman year, he only attempted 40 3’s. After a deeper look at the tape, there are two glaring defects in Smith as a shooter: his form and his ability, or lack thereof, to shoot off the dribble. His form is just odd. Smith seems to load up the shot from his waist, raise it over his head, and slowly release his shot. These slow mechanics could lead to defenders having an easy time closing out on him.
The explosive combo guard also can’t seem to create for himself or others. His shot off the dribble is almost non-existent. He doesn’t seem to have a wide array of moves to help him get to the basket. If these skills don’t develop, Smith may never be more than a complementary piece in the league.
Many draft pundits are comparing Smith to Victor Oladipo, a combo guard who seems likely to win the NBA’s Most Improved Player award. Both have similar explosive abilities offensively, and high motors on defense. It took time for Oladipo to develop into a consistent threat from beyond the arc, but by his fifth season in the NBA he became an All-Star.
In a perfect world, Smith will develop into a hybrid of Danny Green and Tony Allen, comprised of both of their strengths and none of their shortcomings. His floor is probably Gerald Green, as a decent scorer and defender off the bench.
Possible Landing Spots:
The LA Clippers at 12 or 13 may take Smith as they look to add a quality perimeter defender to pair with Patrick Beverly moving forward. At 18 the San Antonio Spurs could take the new version of Danny Green to replace the actual Danny Green as he, and his expiring contract may be moved this offseason. Don’t expect Smith to last past the 20th selection of the draft. The Minnesota Timberwolves had no help coming off the bench last season, and Smith could be the spark they need to advance past the first round.
Wherever Zhaire Smith lands on draft night, one thing is for certain. His new head coach will love him. Smith’s work ethic and selfless play will pay dividends for his new team. Smith could follow in Donovan Mitchell’s shoes as a rookie 2019 NBA Dunk Contest and, in the right situation, he may be a dark horse to push for rookie of the year.
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